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Getting more out of a garden

These endive seedlings are about ready to transplant into the vegetable garden to develop into delicious heads in autumn. The Associated Press

The same hot weather that brings out the best in tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and other summer vegetables makes spinach, lettuce, peas, and other cool-weather vegetables tough and bitter.

Midsummer weather makes the prospect of cool weather seem remote, but of course such weather will return. Now might be a good time to plan for and begin planting vegetables that thrive in autumn weather.

Cool, moist weather, even with temperatures dipping below freezing, brings out the best flavor in vegetables such as kale, broccoli and carrots. And the fall harvest season is long because, with short days, there’s no danger of such vegetables as spinach and Chinese cabbage bolting to seed. Broccoli and cauliflower buds stay tight, patiently awaiting harvest.

Before planning for a delectable harvest of autumn vegetables, take three vows.

The first is to maintain soil fertility. Autumn’s predominantly leafy vegetables are heavy feeders, and your garden has already had one growing season, so apply fertilizer and liberal amounts of compost or other organic matter to the soil.

Second, don’t forget to water. Seedlings beginning life in midsummer can’t get enough water otherwise through typical summer heat and drought. Natural rainfall and cooler temperatures will lessen or eliminate watering chores as autumn approaches.

And third, spend a few minutes weeding on a regular basis throughout the season. Summer weeds take up space that you could use for fall vegetables. They also compete for water and nutrients.

To figure out when to sow autumn vegetables, look on seed packets for the “days to maturity.” Cool weather and shorter days are going to dramatically slow growth as fall approaches, so count on any vegetable being ready for harvest around the time when cooler weather settles in in earnest in your area, and days become regularly cooler. For vegetables that are usually transplanted, add four weeks, which is the time they would need to grow to transplant size.

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